3 Songs You Didn’t Know Alicia Keys Wrote For Other Artists

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

The 41-year-old, New York City-born artist Alicia Keys is goals.

She’s a multi-time Grammy Award-winning artist, married to producer Swizz Beatz, and is known as a cultural icon and a vision of wisdom. What could be better? She’s a deity at this point.

While Keys rose to fame thanks to hits like “No One,” “Fallin’” and “If I Ain’t Got You,” the star has made an impact on the music world with a myriad of albums, singles, and her mere presence on and off stage. When she shows up, you know it’s important.

But just as Keys has helped bring her star to heavenly levels in the public eye through her musicianship and taste, so has she used her talents to help others as well, even penning tunes for giants like Christina Aguilera and Whitney Houston.

Here, we will dive into 3 songs Keys wrote for other artists.

1. “Impossible,” Christina Aguilera

Written by Alicia Keys

From Aguilera’s fourth album, Stripped, which has sold upwards of 12 million copies to date, this song was written by Keys alone. It also features Keys with Aguilera. The two banter back on forth, “I’ve got something on my mind,” Aguilera says. “Speak on it, girl,” Keys offers. Then the jazzy, piano-forward song begins, rich with harmonies and a snappy snare drum. As the track, which was recorded at Electric Lady Studios in New York City, unfolds, Aguilera belts out phrase after phrase, soulful and precious like a string of diamonds. You can hear Keys’ influence, the long pulled-out phrases, and the jazzy, even blues foundation. Check out the track below.

2. “Million Dollar Bill,” Whitney Houston

Written by Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz

From Houston’s seventh studio album, I Look to You, in 2009, “Million Dollar Bill” was written by Keys (and her husband, producer Swizz Beatz) and samples R&B singer Loleatta Holloway’s song “We’re Getting Stronger,” from the 1976 LP, Loleatta. That song is co-written by Norman Harris. The idea for the Houston track was brought to Keys and Beatz by record executive Clive Davis.

Said Houston of the creative process, “When [Keys] performed at one of [Clive’s] parties the year before last, I kind of looked at her, and it was when she had [the ‘No One’] record out, and it was the only record that came on the radio that inspired me… I walked over to her, and off the cuff said, ‘Hey, do you think you could produce me?’ She said, ‘Yeah, I think I can’. Then I performed a year after, and she came up with the song ‘Million Dollar Bill,’ and I said, ‘Wow, incredible.'”

To date, “Million Dollar Bill” is Houston’s final single from a studio album, and the soulful, relentlessly fun song represents the last release in her life before her untimely death in 2012. 

3. “Empire State of Mind,” Jay Z

Written by Angela Hunte, Jane’t Sewell-Ulepic, Al Shux, Jay Z and Alicia Keys


The 2009 hit was everything. It’s still a song, over a decade later, that you hear on the radio, in stores, in television shows, movies, and commercials often. And while it might be easy to think the prolific and talented Jay Z wrote the entire thing, that’s not true. Keys had a big hand in the performance and the writing of the song.

From Jay’s 2009 album, Blueprint 3, the song was written by the rapper, Keys, Al Shux, Angela Hunte, and Jane’t Sewell-Ulepic. In fact, it’s those last two names where the song begins. It was originally written by Hunte and Sewell-Ulepic. The two submitted the song to Roc Nation, which declined to run with it. But then the two submitted it to Jay himself, who wrote his own verses and kept their hook. Keys was chosen to sing the hook because of the song’s piano beat. When Keys was brought in, she also helped with the writing’s finishing touches.

Now, the homage to the Big Apple and the Empire State is forever.

Photo credit: Ramon Rivas / RCA Records

Leave a Reply

best guitar stands

5 Best Guitar Stands of 2023

Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi Talks Recording New Solo Album: “It’s Almost Ready to Go”